The Four Most Under-Appreciated STAR TREK Episodes
I was going to make a list of some of my favorite episodes of Star Trek, but that’s ground that’s been pretty thoroughly covered. I didn’t think the internet needed another article explaining why “The Best of Both Worlds” is so brilliant or how if we’d gotten “The Forge” in Enterprise’s first season, that show would have lasted a lot longer than it did. Everyone knows “Amok Time” and “The Doomsday Machine” are great, and no one needs me telling them to go watch “The Maquis” or “The Way of the Warrior.”
No, this is a post for the unappreciated gems in Trek’s history, the episodes I love but which the majority of fans, for one reason or another, seem to hate (or at least regard as middling). I’d intended to do one episode for each series, but I still haven’t seen The Animated Series, and I don’t have any particularly controversial thoughts about Enterprise. So I have just four episodes below, one each from the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager; four episodes which I believe are not terribly well-regarded by my fellow Star Trek fans, but which I wholeheartedly (or at least mostheartedly) adore.
Star Trek: “All Our Yesterdays” (3.23)
This episode, like so many third-season TOS episodes, is pretty corny. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are sent back in time to different points — Kirk to one, Spock & McCoy to a second — in the history of a planet whose star is about to go supernova. It turns out that this was the planet’s inhabitants’ solution to their impending disaster. That’s interesting enough as a concept, but what makes this episode an under-appreciated gem for me is the intense loneliness of the character Zarabeth. Yes, her sexy cavewoman garb is ridiculous, and there’s really no rational reason Spock would start to revert to a proto-Vulcan savage because he’s been sent back in time. But there’s a desperation to his brief romance with Zarabeth that’s almost beautiful in its brevity, and Zarabeth’s final fate, to be left alone in a frozen ice age for the rest of her life, is truly heartbreaking. Yeah, the Kirk story leaves a lot to be desired (he communes with spirits! Please.), and Mr. Atoz (get it? Because he’s a librarian? Get it???) is a frustratingly opaque and ultimately toothless antagonist. But I’m not even completely alone in finding the romance between Spock and Zarabeth intriguing; novelist A.C. Crispin wrote not one but two novels which served as sequels to this episode.
The Next Generation: “Conspiracy” (1.25)
There’s an animosity, even a loathing, associated with this episode by most fans, and I just don’t get it. Someone once assumed I was trolling a mutual friend when I suggested she watch this episode, since, as the first friend put it, it’s one of the most-hated episodes of The Next Generation. Really? Most hated? Worse than the episode where Beverly Crusher fucks a ghost, or when Tasha Yar is kidnapped by the leader of Planet Africa?
But I digress. I fucking adore this episode. It begins mysteriously, with Picard summoned by an old friend to a secret meeting of elite starship captains. Right away the music and the cinematography (Dytallix B is a really nice use of the famed “Planet Hell” set) set the mood perfectly; this is not a happy-go-lucky-let’s-visit-the-Aryan-Nation-planet-where-everyone-runs-and-it’s-so-charming episode. The mystery deepens when his old friend’s ship is destroyed shortly thereafter, and Data begins logging a series of strange orders issued by Starfleet Command over the past six months. It gets truly bizarre when the aging Admiral Quinn beams aboard the Enterprise and not only attacks Riker but requires LaForge, Worf, and finally Beverly — with multiple blasts from a phaser, no less — to settle him down. From there it turns truly creepy and grotesque when it’s revealed that Quinn, and much of Starfleet Command, have been infected by insect-like alien parasites that sit on your spinal column and take over your body. It all climaxes in a phaser fight in the middle of Starfleet headquarters, and a showdown between Picard & Riker and the alien queen, who’s taken up residence in the body of a Starfleet commander named Remmick.
I think that final sequence might be why a lot of people don’t like this episode. It’s astonishingly violent and gory for Star Trek — Riker and Picard actually phaser Remmick’s head until it explodes — and it might seem out of character for Picard to turn so quickly not only to violence but to lethal force. But what sells that decision for me is the look of pure revulsion on Patrick Stewart’s face as he phasers first Remmick’s head, and then the horrific alien queen residing inside Remmick’s now-charred corpse. Because it’s not a decision, at least not one Picard makes rationally. It’s pure, animal instinct. For all of Starfleet’s talk of seeking new life and respecting all cultures, there will still be some creatures in the universe which inspire that kind of knee-jerk, primitive, lizard-brain revulsion. It’s undoubtedly a dark moment, possibly the darkest moment in the entire series. In this case, the violence was justified, even essential, for humanity to survive. But what about the next time?
(I was going to include stills from the final sequence, but I kept adding more and more and oh just go watch the scene)
Incidentally, this episode was also the subject of a novelized sequel — in this case, the first major arc of the Deep Space Nine reboot novel series (consider it “season eight” of DS9), when the parasites return in force, and it’s revealed what their true target was from the beginning.
Deep Space Nine: “Civil Defense” (3.07)
“Civil Defense” isn’t loathed the way “Conspiracy” is, but neither do I see it discussed that often with very much warmth. I think I saw someone once call it “the one where the replicator tries to kill everyone,” which, while technically accurate, is an unfair distillation of what is a pretty great episode.
Most people consider the Dominion War to be the highlight of DS9‘s run, but I’m in the minority that feels the Dominion War is where the series started to lose its focus. DS9, in my opinion, was always best when dealing with Bajor, the repercussions of Cardassia’s occupation, and yeah, even the relationship of the Prophets to Bajor. “Civil Defense” could have been just another “the ensemble is trapped in various places around the ship/station and time is running out!” episode a la TNG’s “Disaster” (which is actually another great episode), but “Civil Defense” takes it a step further, not only using the fact that Deep Space Nine itself was a Cardassian station as the plot kickoff (the station falls under computerized lockdown when Jake trips an old security program and the station computer thinks Bajoran workers have seized control of the station from the Cardassians), but it uses it as a way to further explore the Cardassia-Bajor dynamic.
It also makes for a tense hour of TV that makes great use of the entire ensemble, including Dukat and Garak. It deepens the characterization of most of the main cast (Dax and Bashir are kinda given the short shrift here), and, yes, it includes a pretty cool scene of the replicator trying to kill everyone. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, I’d suggest giving it another look.
Voyager: “Fair Haven” (6.11)
Voyager is my least-favorite Star Trek series (yes, even behind Enterprise), and the episodes I consider solid (“Deadlock,” “Blink of an Eye,” most of the two-parters) are episodes generally considered by most fans to be high points as well.
But then there’s “Fair Haven.” A holodeck episode (and don’t get me started on Voyager even having a functional holodeck in a situation where energy and fuel are precious) (ugh, Voyager!), and not even one of the more wildly inventive ones, like “Worst Case Scenario” or “Bride of Chaotica!” Just a weird, quiet little episode where the crew creates an Irish village … and that’s pretty much it, that’s the plot. Oh, there’s some interesting science-fiction questions about the morality of programming possibly sentient A.I. creations to do our bidding, but mostly it’s just a lark.
Except I love this episode because it’s a lark and because it’s so weird and off-beat. The episode ends with Janeway in a relationship with a holographic creation! Apart from the obvious questions about using the holodeck for sex — which have been discussed by fans since TNG’s “11001001” and “Hollow Pursuits” — it also leads to some interesting questions about what a ship captain is supposed to do about relationships during a long voyage. She’s not supposed to fraternize with the crew, but is it really fair to ask a captain to be celibate? I was delighted an episode of the often-stodgy Star Trek (and the even stodgier-than-most-Trek Voyager) raise these issues (if not explore them particularly thoroughly).
So that’s it, four episodes of Star Trek I’m very fond of, which hardly anyone else seems to be. What are some of your favorite unloved episodes? Have a soft spot for “Skin of Evil”? Think “Spock’s Brain” is an under-appreciated classic? Let us know in the comments!